Saturday, December 24, 2011

Twas the Ride Before Christmas...

Festive color on Christmas Eve!
It's been an unusually mild Chicagoland December thus far as it is the end of the month, and the lack of snow has made it so that I can only look longingly at my cc skis. So, I've taken it upon myself to try and squeeze the season for every last drop of outdoor riding before the first real winter storms hit, or the mercury plunges too deeply below the freezing point.

After bailing on an otherwise lackluster cyclocross racing season, I set the bike aside for a few weeks (sorry, no Montrose Harbor for me this year!), did a little running, and otherwise partook in my strategic end-of-season "active recovery" (read: a slothful malaise punctuated by trips off the couch to reheat a slice of pizza or refill my tumbler-o-ginger ale).

My 'forest of Arenberg'

It was a bit of an odd / eerie experience being out on the bike path today. It was well into the afternoon as I headed north for an out-and-back toward Crystal Lake. I was maybe one of 3 cyclists on the path the whole entire time, and the walkers weren't many more (no, not Imperial AT-AT Walkers... those come out with the Hoth Wampa, once the snows hit). It was, in a word, desolate. The pending holiday hush made it seem even more desolate than a ride I had been on just a few weeks earlier.

It was just a much quieter, colder version of the usual late afternoon ride. I could begin to smell what people were cooking up for holiday fare.. (yes, even chestnuts!).. Aah, fabric softener!.. Someone's doing laundry!.. Steak, potatoes, Cinnamon Toast Crunch?.. Mmm, wishful thinking.. I must be bonking! But alas... wouldn't you know it?.. on the tail-end of the return trip, I stopped into the friendly confines of Main Street Bicycles where my friend and brother-o-bikes Jeff P. had quite the stash of leftover Hanukkah BBQ feast!!! As this is a family blog, I will not mention the certain frosty adult libation that also somehow magically appeared!

"Your Surly Pugsley
does not  impress me!"
So I lumbered out of the shop with wrench Peter S. (okay, he's more of a ninja / wizard among bike mechanics, and his word is law when it comes to bike setup and maintenance). We rode together for a bit. Peter, happy to be done with the day's work and headed home for Christmas Eve / Hanukkah with his crew... I, post-ride, post-feast stuffed and feeling defiant like an ice-age mastodon, and re-energized to sprint away from one of these, should one suddenly appear:      

Merry Christmas!!... and think of all those lucky kids (of ALL ages) who will be waking up to new bikes and bike gear on Christmas morning! And of course, those of us only too happy to go out and ride our old, tried-but-true stuff! Wahoo!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Halfway Point Round-Up

Some KING bling!
Well, half the schedule in the 2011 Chicago Cyclocross Cup season's been raced, and I'm still struggling along near the bottom of the standings, including a couple of ignominious last-place finishes (quickly tells self that "at least you finished, and did not quit.." Whatever it takes to lessen the bruises on the ego...) Not making excuses, just pointing out the facts.

Sloppy, but getting it done...
I had a bit of an epiphany earlier this week on my way to work. I don't recall if it was someone calling in to a show on NPR, or some talk radio show of a more conservative bent, but the call had to do with fair compensation in the marketplace, return on investment, etc., etc. I suddenly realized that if I'm not performing as I should be on the bike, then it is because I have not WORKED HARD ENOUGH in training, and frankly, I don't even deserve to be placing even in the 50th percentile given my slackerdom in training. Fair enough. Makes sense.

A friend of mine (who shall remain nameless... Let's call him "Iron Chef") has indicated that he actually *likes* the pain and suffering that training and racing necessarily entail. Ok, beyond Iron Chef's relationship to that drama, and whatever it means to him, his outlook makes perfect sense. In a nutshell, it goes like this: Whoever has the highest pain threshold wins. Assuming of course, that that pain threshold on the bike is accompanied by speed and skill and endurance, etc. I guess that I simply have not "embraced" suffering on the bike enough to outdistance my peers in any particular cycling discipline. And of all those two-wheeled permutations, cyclocross certainly seems to require racing-specific training the most.

Slog, slog, slog...
Well, I'm most certainly looking forward to the rest of the CX season, and all of the suffering and crazy moments that will accompany such folly. On that note, I'll leave you with an excerpt from an old article by coach Scott Saifer. I believe the original title of the piece was "Are You Crazy Enough?" It was published in ROAD magazine a few years ago:

BIKE RACERS ARE CRAZY! The voluntarily withdraw from a normal social life. The get up ridiculously early; fail to seek promotion at work; risk serious injury, paralysis and death; take fragile expensive equipment into situations where it is bound to be damaged; and drive long distances, all for the chance to win a handful of inner-tubes, or maybe a small amount of cash. Even when there is cash on the line, it is generally less than the cost of the equipment, and far less than a rider could earn doing something more productive in the time spent training and racing. The chance of winning for most riders is about equal to the chance of crashing. It is quite a bit smaller than the chance of going home uninjured or empty-handed. Bike racers go into situations knowing that they are going to experience intense pain and often are looking forward to it. They enjoy the thought that they are going to be surrounded by people in pain and that they will be increasing the pain. They believe that the outcomes of races are important enough to justify tremendous risks and the investment of all those resources of time and money. The only consistent benefit of bike racing is that riders have things to talk about with other racers, things that make non-racers roll their eyes and yawn after a few minutes. Are racers as a group sane, healthy, well-balanced people? I think not. Most often racers are at least a bit masochistic, sadistic, delusional, misfit, anti-social or socially desperate, and often all six. Perhaps craziest of all, most bike racers believe, against extensive experience to the contrary, that sooner or later they are going to win a race. Like people who play the lottery, racers believe that the tremendous value of the payout makes up for the improbability of it ever happening to them. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Beautiful Fly-overs and Flying Ears of Corn

Flying corn.
Brought to you by: Genetic engineering 
Aah, lovely DeKalb, Illinois!.. Birthplace of barbed wire and Cindy Crawford... and the 2nd stop on the Chicago Cyclocross Cup series (also home to that "Harvard of the Midwest," Northern Illinois University. GO HUSKIES! Disclaimer: While it just so happens that I enjoy fruitful employment at NIU, I was not paid one penny for my enthusiastic shout-out). No doubt, Cindy and barbed wire are perfect bookends to the sublime beauty and pain that is cyclocross racing at Hopkins Park. Add to that, the one or two "mooooo" cattle sounds I made as the herd of fellow racers moved into the first series of corners on the course. Hey, I heard a couple of people laugh, and it was all in good fun to lighten the mood a bit on the first lap.  

Where "House of Style" meets "House of Pain"
Even though I was happy with my performance on the bike today (was not dead-last and did not crash), there's much room for improvement. Indeed, my team-mate Jeff actually was lined up behind me at the start, then managed to pass me, and after pausing to lose his breakfast (allowing me to bridge the gap up to him), he then managed to pull away from me again! It seemed that even the ears of corn *without* wings were moving faster than me today. Meh, no worries. I know what I need to do.

Site of ritual sacrifice for a good harvest
One of the highlights of the DeKalb-Hopkins Park Course is the fly-over. Basically, stairs up one side, a flat section for re-mounting at the top, and a steep ramp to roll down the other side. A bit sketchy in mixed company, but lots of fun nonetheless. This year, the edge of the roll-down ramp was much smoother at the point where it met the ground (unlike last year, where the 'thunk!' actually caused my handlebars to twist in the stem-clamp!). And who of course, can forget MY meeting mother Earth after an unplanned collision with a brave video camera lady? But, I digress...

From a technical standpoint, I was really impressed with how low a tire pressure can be run on my Vittoria tubulars. At a couple of spots, where grass turned to pavement, I could feel the rim bottom out on the rear tire, and still, no puncture! This would be simply unthinkable with a clincher setup. I also noted that my humble FSA headset became slightly loose again (after a recent tightening). Hmm, might be time to shell out for some Chris King bike bling! And finally, technology aside, I was much impressed with the speed and ferocity with which my much fitter fellow racers left me in their wake... especially the top guys in the 40+ category. They actually lapped me with about 2 laps to go and well, you know that expression about being passed as though one were "standing still"... Yeah.

Post-race grimace
The uphill barriers, followed by slick, off-camber downhill hairpins are also always fun. Adding to the enjoyment was the race marshal with the bullhorn who managed to offer up the perfect balance of heckling and encouragement to dull the pain just enough. At one point, she even had the gumption to give me grief for spitting on the course! Awesome. Thanks to North Central Cyclery, Half Acre Cycling, and Robots Powered by Love for putting on a great race!  

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Only in Chicago, or Endor

Today marked my return to consistent racing for the 2011 season. My road season was pretty much a wash with poor training, undisciplined nutrition, and lackluster sleep. Meh, there's always next year!.. but for THIS year, there's still plenty of cyclocross left.

Such naive optimism.
And so it was, at the 2011 Chicago Cyclocross Cup opener at Jackson Park (if you're familiar with the city, it's sort of on the South Side off Lake Shore Drive near the big golden lady statue adjacent to the Museum of Science & Industry).

After the usual ritual of picking up my racing number from the registration tent, I slathered on a little "embrocation" (goop that makes the skin feel warm and warmed up and probably not even FDA-approved!) and finished putting on the rest of my team kit.

This was my first race in an honest-to-goodness "Masters 40+" field, but don't let the "mature" sound of that age category hint even for a moment that these guys aren't anything but super fast and strong. Many of these forever-young types merely use the 40+ event as a warm-up before their more elite Category 1/2/3 races.

I managed to secure a decent starting spot by warming up (loitering?) just off the entry-point to the course's final straightaway near the start/finish line. After a bit of a bumpy start, I was able to pretty much hold my position throughout the first lap, and settle into somewhat of a nice rhythm. By about the 3rd lap, me and some guy named Jim had just made the cutoff before they started pulling people behind us. So, in the interest of having a spirited finish, it basically comes down to a race between my new friend Jim and me. We're pedaling along, suffering, trading off the lead, but staying close.

And there he goes, eager to secure the hole shot!

At one point, I was so spent and in need of oxygen to the brain, that if I had seen a ewok zip me on an Imperial Speeder Bike, I would have just assumed it was one of the shorter racers in a fun costume and kept right on pedaling. Jackson Park is lovely, with plenty of mature foliage, so it did feel in a couple of sections as though I was trying to evade Imperial Scout Troopers, as well as avoid getting lapped!

Bruni post-race. Isn't she lovely?
I did manage to pass my friendly rival in the final corner and beat him at the line for a double-digit placing after which, I came off the course and did the whole dramatic dry-heave thing (note to self: race-day breakfast of peanut butter and jelly on toast stays down pretty well, must do again).

P.S. Special shout-out to Jeff Provisor and Peter Shapero at Main Street Bicycles in Carpentersville, IL for helping me with my recent pre-CX-season overhaul. Thanks for the wise counsel and genius wrenching, guys!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Riders on the Storm(s) of Gravel and Mud

So a few days ago, my friend Jeff at Main Street Bicycles (shameless plug) suggests I view this video promo of a "gravel" metric century ridden on rural, mostly unpaved roads in DeKalb County, Illinois. Hmm, intriguing.. looks like fun. Here's the first of 2 clips:

Looks like the good folks over at North Central Cyclery have once again teamed up with Chicago's Half Acre Cycling to produce the 2nd annual edition of this soon-to-be-classic event. 

I can't help but ponder the instinct that drives us to revert (regress?) to a more primitive state on two wheels. Perhaps it's the same sort of quirk in human nature that has us argue amongst ourselves about what "is" and "is not" X,Y, or Z. For example, in the recent Keith Richards autobiography Life, there seems to be a whole brew-ha-ha going on about what is or is not jazz, blues, etc. in the evolution of modern music. 
We often see the same battles in other fields of human endeavor and culture, be they the arts, motor sports, or even politics. We want to get back to a simpler time, cut through the baroque embellishments we've created, and get back to basics. 

How primitive will I get today?

We want a more real or authentic experience. It's as though the evolution of our society's modern creature comforts have insulated us from the pains (both physical and psychic) that were in earlier times, simply taken for granted. It might seem a little Fight Club-ish, but I can understand the appeal. Real Simple magazine anyone?

Coupled with this trend toward the essence of things, is a nostalgia for things as they might have been in the past (often, a thoroughly idealized, romanticized past). Besides the obvious good writing and acting, the appeal of the hit show Mad Men seems to hint at a yearning Don Draper himself would be quick to exploit. 

Suddenly the 7 and 8 speed "old school" bike parts we may have not-so-long-ago spurned for 9 and 10 speed upgrades have become "vintage," fetching top-dollar along with all of the other high-buck items to be had on the interwebs.       

Which brings me to the point of this blog posting: riding 100 kilometers, much of it, by design, on *unpaved* rural roads. I'll spare you the references to suffering and what a slog it was, and fun (mostly). That should be obvious... It's why we do this sport, right? What started as an easy roll-out of DeKalb, quickly turned into a complete, no-holds-barred smack-down! As a mass-start (non-competitive) event, it is inevitable that such a gathering that will appeal to a mostly bike racer demographic, will ultimately become VERY COMPETITIVE for the majority of those participating. 

"Ain't no river wide enough"

The increased pace and fragmentation of the field into different groupettos happened before the pavement gave way to gravel. Just as expected. No problem. Tailwind, overcast, we're moving along, the kilometers ticking past. Then the skies darkened, and unleashed an unrelenting Midwestern thunderstorm. This made the already soggy conditions on some parts of the course simply impassable. Gravel is hard enough (oh, did I happen to mention that I rolled with regular 23c tires, and not my cross-tire setup? FAIL) muddy singletrack... miserable. Creek bed turned raging river in flash-flood conditions though? Come on!

Going amphibious, with the wrong tires!

It rained so much, and there was so much water to pedal through, that I contemplated laying the bike down in the ditch, and convincing my cohorts to build an ark where we could load our bikes two at a time for the ensuing great flood. An ark,... or, by the looks of some of the riders, their piercings and tattoos,... a pirate ship (speaking of Keith Richards). Hoist the main sail!!! ... Aaarrggh!!!  (As far as pirates go though, let's stick to the fun Disney kind, not the 19th century Barbary or Somali type.)  


Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Tale of Two Rides, Or: The Ballad of the Melancholy Reindeer

APRIL is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
What Eliot had in mind?
Dull roots with spring rain.
- T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land, 1922

And so it was on yesterday's (Saturday's) ride, which was supposed to have been a nice, easy spin north to Crystal Lake and back. It started with relative optimism that I'd be able to dodge any serious precipitation, at least according to my last glance at the weather radar. No matter, I donned my old Pearl-Izumi 'typhoon' booties, mittens, and "rain-cape" as they say in Britain, just the same. Mind you, this is April in Chicagoland. *APRIL*.

Unaware of the smackdown ahead...
So Moira Miyata and I ventured forth, figuring a nice spin up, stop for a quick mint tea, and head back to get on with the rest of the afternoon. Wouldn't you know it? ... the drizzle begins in earnest.. a few miles go by, I'm doing ok.. Now the drizzle has turned into a steady rain with the wind picking up out of the northwest. Great.

Hey, the rain now turns to sleet, and what's this?... Giant snowflakes! Hey, it's snowing sideways!!! Welcome to mid-April in the Midwest, SUCKAAA!!! Damn.

While it's a pleasant enough wonderment-at-nature sensation to feel snowflakes land on one's lips every now and again, I'd gladly opt out in April, thank-you-very-much. Did I happen to mention it is April? *Cruel* Or, say it with me in Spanish: Cruel. 

Made with *real* reindeer tears
(because you don't recycle)
So I arrive at the Caribou Coffee I was slogging towards, and sit and thaw with said mint tea for a bit. I'm being eyeballed by a gathering of some sort of obnoxiously loud suburban mommy-to-be support cult (seriously, we're talking 3rd trimester), and one bespectacled, portly pug-faced graduate student who should, if not already thus, take immediate steps to change his name to "Quasimodo" (or at least use that as an alias). Yes, we are ALL freaks in our own, special way. I'm the idiot who just emerged from the mini-blizzard on his bike.

Of course, I notice that the friendly Caribou's confines are making a huge production about its observation of the upcoming Earth Day. How? By hawking travel mugs and other such containers in the interest of doing its corporate "green" bit. Unfortunately, there are STILL NO RECYCLING bins in the place for used (paper) cups, napkins, plastic lids, etc. * F A I L * I'm sure a lone caribou in Alaska pauses at that moment to shed a silent tear (and one would hope, get on with his day. Sorry, does not include mating calls and such, for that's a fall activity for these majestic creatures, in anticipation of the Santa Claus sled gig audition...) But, I digress...

The ride home was much less dramatic, for after a while, the snow and sleet regressed to drizzle, and I had a slight tailwind.

The NEXT day:

In order of awesomeness, from L to R.
If it doesn't fit, you must acquit...
Today's slog was to be the usual cycling club Sunday ride out of the Panera in Deer Park, IL (what IS IT with caribou and deer in this posting?). A pretty good turnout of about 8 riders, plus another two we'd pick up on the road. I got off on the wrong foot, err.. hand, when I hastily rolled away with a lame Performance-brand "wind-proof" glove on my left hand, and a Pearl-Izumi "lobster" mitt on the right. I'm no particular fan of Pearl-Izumi gear, as in my opinion, their stuff tends to run too small and is most definitely *overpriced* for the current quality they are producing (unlike the no-longer-produced fleece mittens and booties I wore yesterday). Out of fairness though, the lobster mitt performed wonderfully in today's mid-30s blustery misery. My other hand was but a wretched t-rex claw minutes into the ride (now, I FELT like Quasimodo!).

Anyway, miserable cold and wind aside, the rollout was lead by one of our team's elite riders, whom we shall here, simply refer to as "Stainless" (because he's tough and resilient like stainless steel, no doubt). He's a Hungarian-American badass who comes to the sport of bicycle racing from the sport of ice hockey, so no caribou tears here. He thrives on inflicting sweet pain upon friend and foe alike. Ouch.

Bjarne and Jan in happier times...
On today's ride, his lieutenant in pain dishing is one of our other elite riders whom we shall call "Bjarne," since he resembles Denmark's Bjarne Riis in his (EPO-enhanced) prime. Our guy is of course, squeaky-clean.

These two are a sight to behold on two wheels. Stainless is all lean muscle and power (think ice hockey), and Bjarne is all lanky sinew. Not only is the physical vista a bit foreboding, but once they start chattering with each other, it surely places riders within earshot at a disadvantage. They are, simply, HILARIOUS.

Of course, this is something that their level of fitness allows them to pull off with great aplomb, the ability to actually talk, to happily converse with each other while the rest of the peloton they tow in their wake gasp for air and mercy. And what exactly, is so funny about the content of their idle chit-chat on a bike? I'll save it for another entry. One thing is for certain, the whole scene only adds to the cruel, cruel month that is April on a bike in Chicagoland.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Stem of All Things (Or: This Life Behind Bars)

As Hoth conditions give way to Dagobah climate, it's been a bit slow-going (literally) in my spring training base miles for this 2011 season. No worries, for it is good to be in the midsts of the yearly routine and ritual of trying to "find my legs" again, after a winter of sloth, daydreaming, and wishful but inconsistent cross-country skiing whilst avoiding the occasional wampa.

More aggressive approach GROWL!
One thing that is different this year is that I seem to be more diligent in obsessing over my position on the bike, specifically, with regards to the height of my handlebars. While it is only the first week of April, I feel as though I've already switched back and forth, up and down, between a more "aggressive," lower, stem-parallel-to-the-ground position, and a more "relaxed," upright, easier-on-the-back-and-neck position.

I think such apparently mundane flip-flopping might offer insight to some psychological / self-concept issues that the bikes and I have to work out.

Italian champ Bartoli
on the hunt!
In our teens, twenties, and early thirties on this planet, it seemed that we bike geeks / burgeoning racers could not get our stems and bars low enough. We were going for "aero," or figured perhaps that the closer we were TO the bike, the more we'd become one WITH the bike... Like a Jedi, the Force, and his lightsaber... ("Strong on bike you are yet NOT," says Yoda)

Now, as I enter my first "Masters 40+" racing season, ("About to turn 40, better FLIP that stem!") I contemplate the implications of stem-and-bar position with the solemn gravitas that only a vain, self-important, delusional bike racer could conjure up... Wait a minute, vain? self-important? delusional? I suppose that'd be MOST bike racers!

The human body changes as we age. We become less limber, less able to maintain the (insert your favorite predator animal here) about to pounce stance we were able to posture around with in our more youthful trips around the sun. Fine, it does not take a Ph.D. in sports physiology to grasp this concept.

Please, add some fiber to my sports drink
In my case, it's not so much that my body was starting to tell me that the more aggressive position on the bike was uncomfortable... In fact, I don't recall any back or neck pain last season, or going into the current new season. What IS different, is that I seem to be more at ease and comfortable with the aesthetic and concept of the upright tilted, more relaxed riding position. Though, when I glance at the bike's silhouette and profile in its current relaxed approach, I cannot but help think about what is being "lost" by training and racing in a less "youthful" stance. Bike responsiveness? Intimidation of my rivals as they see me roll up to the line? (hear them quake (or quack?) in their duck-waddling-cleated cycling shoes)

It's more that I seem comfortable, not necessarily with my physical position on the bike, but with the abstraction of what it means to grow ever-so-slightly (hey!) *OLDER* even if not much wiser. One thing is for certain, it is easier to be in the drops (the lower part of the handlebars) for longer periods, and that IS more aero! So perhaps the whole thing is a ruse after all, and it's not about seeking two-wheeled creature comforts, but about speed, efficiency, and body mechanics at the expense of youthful velo-aesthetics.

I also suspect that I can more easily apply power to the pedals, in the more upright position... I just don't look as cool doing it. I *still* look cooler than some hippie-bearded Star Trek physicist on a recumbent flying a little day-glo triangle flag though. Hey, I earlier invoked Star Wars, not Star Trek! There IS a difference! And so too with the stem-bar-ego setup.


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Spring Love Blooming

So I've just returned from an "easy" ride north to the town of Algonquin and back... and as my 'lobster-mitted' hands will attest, it is still plenty brisk here in Chicagoland. At least the sun is out. That's a major consolation from one of last weekend's rides.

Today, the bike was fighting me a bit. I think that most avid cyclists and racers probably have a point in the early-season that is similar. Their feeling on the bike is awkward and unnatural. The melding of human and machine that will often happen after the adequate miles have been traversed seems nowhere to be found in these early days.

This ride was all payback for the last ride, I could feel it in just about ever pedal-stroke. If this bike (I usually refer to her as "Shirley") could express her feelings in words, or otherwise drop me a little note, it might go something like this:

My Dearest JACKASS,

Yeah, keep smirking...
I hope you like how my brakes were scrapey and my shifting half-hearted today. Do you remember this time last weekend, when you decided to take me out when it was raining and in the low-40s? Do you recall how you suffered so, shivering in the cold and wet and how your rain-soaked gloves and numb-stump hands only added to your misery? Well, HOW DO YOU THINK *I* FELT!?!? Your "race-day-only" bike? What's worse, you didn't even bother to squirt a little Tri-Flow or Pro-Link on my chain before heading out the door! Even though my bearings are sealed, rain and muck still affects me! Did you even bother to give me  a cursory cleaning after your little death march? Uumm NO!! The subsequent ride, you only gave me a little spritz of lube then rolled up to Barrington and got your chill on INSIDE that coffee place while I sat patiently outside waiting for you. Then today, you go up north and expect some sort of magical spring awakening... Oh, I DON'T THINK SO!!!...
I'm glad that my lack of snap and smoothness only added to the suffering you went through today, induced mostly by your half-ass physical condition. We all thought this year would be different... You neglected us on the indoor training grind in exchange for a few outings on those cross-country skis you purchased. Well a lot of good those did you! Don't even THINK about wrenching on me right now!!! Go carouse with your skis... maybe they need some wax or something!.. As far as I'm concerned right now, you can just talk to the hand(lebar)!!!

I made certain to stop a few times to snap some photos of her and try and get her good side ... and perhaps, if I'm lucky, get ON her good side. Right now though, I'm pretty much in the doghouse.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Commuting With The Colonel

With a stretch recent temps in the mid 30s and into the 40s in the days ahead, I got up the gumption to try a dress rehearsal on the “partial commute” to work. I attached the panniers, and filled them with clothes and stuff I would take to work on a “real” partial bike commute day.

Still life with bike and chainlink fence... 
As planned, I threw my 1990 Miyata 600 GT bike into the car and drove partway (yes, I promise to write more about this bike soon). After attempting to head west on the crushed gravel and limestone Great Western Trail, it became apparent that the recent thaw had left the surface conditions damp, slushy, and slow at best. So, I jumped off the path a bit, headed south to catch Keslinger Rd. and then take that west.

What I quickly found was that sometimes, suburban sprawl leaves barely a hodge-podge of viably safe cycling options. On more than one occasion, when the shoulder narrowed to a matter of inches, I had to cross the road to seek out the safety of little paved foot paths. I really started to dread the thought of being in the way of hectic-minded commuting during-the-week motorists, and started to reconsider my Keslinger Rd. plan. 

Hmm…  Perhaps since North Ave (IL Rt. 64) out of St. Charles has some pretty generous shoulder on it, I might try THAT until the trail conditions thaw out completely and dry up. We’ll see. I’m also contemplating leaving my car further west, perhaps closer to Rt. 47 (for those of you local yokels who know the lay of the land!). For now, near the intersection of 47 and 64 at Lily Lake might be ideal, and then add mileage as I gain fitness? Sounds like a plan! So that, on balance, was today’s big WIN… actually getting out and doing this.

The FAIL for the day (ok, WAIL, actually, because it was so “finger-lickin’ good!”) was my total and utter capitulation to temptation on the way home by hitting the KFC drive-thru! Yes, I gave in to the sweet siren-song inside my head...

Complete with KFC 'spork'!
YES, K-F-C!!!! 

No guilt.


I put in the 60 miles in the cold and wind on a loaded touring bike. Not like I’ll make a habit of visiting Colonel Sanders or anything. I did notice that one of the new pair of glasses I just acquired looks amazingly like the kind the colonel likes to rock on that genteel Southun’ mug a his!

Oh, one final note: Is it just me, or have the pieces of chicken, biscuits, and portions of mashed potatoes gotten smaller over time? And, in case anyone's wondering... I LITERALLY *licked* my fingers in a grotesque orgy of gluttonous Henry VIII-defiance and aplomb.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

From Love To Rust and Back Again...

Bottom bracket shell got the worst of it
 "The city's a flood, and our love turns to rust...
We're beaten and blown by the wind, trampled in dust..."

- U2 Where The Streets Have No Name

Love turning to rust, I like that. I suppose it is also some sort of love that is necessary to try and remove a little rust from being so... well, beaten and blown by the wind, and rain, and the passing of time.

So I've started to remove the rust out of the most weathered and salty areas of my 1983 Specialized Allez. Fairly effective at removing rust thusfar, if a bit noxious has been the Never-Dull 'Magic Wading Polish'. Oh, it is "magic" all right, or, at least the fumes from the chemicals that empregnate the stuff help to (unintentionally, OF COURSE) transport me BACK TO 1983 with some old-school tunnage playing in the background. Probably best used outdoors, or at least in a well-ventilated area. But alas, it is February, and it is below freezing outside, so what is one to do?

Love is patient, love is kind
(Can you see the love glowing
off my fingers?)
It's an interesting process to remove rust off of a steel surface. A surface which, had probably not been exposed to the rest of the world, rust-free, for the better part of a couple of decades. I can't help but think of those images from Ballard's dives on the Titanic in that mini-submarine. Rusted ship's hull, barnacles, schools of fish swimming around (preferably, with Kathy Lee Gifford nowhere near the place). In fact, the last time that any of the frame's surface was exposed this bare, it was probably sitting in Kashiwa, outside of Tokyo, Japan waiting for Yoshi Konno or one of his shop staff to throw a coat of primer and then paint on it. It would then be shipped across the Pacific Ocean, bound for Specialized in Morgan Hill, California.

Chrome dropout/derailleur hanger
I've decided, perhaps for mostly sentimental reasons, to not have the frameset completely sandblasted and repainted but rather, to deal with the problem spots and touch it up, keeping the original paint and decals in place for a bit longer. I'm not a collector, or preservationist. I'd like to think that my reasons for the touch-up option rather than complete repaint are as much practical as sentimental I suppose. I love bikes for their utilitarian value as much as for the aethetics involved. The problem rusty spots are just that, finite spots. Most of the frame's paintjob is still amazingly good, considering it is approaching 30 years of age. Wow. Ok, don't linger on THAT thought too much. Yikes.

Anyway, I'm quickly discovering that removing this rust is a painstaking process, but quite satisfying as one goes along. There's an instant-gratification vibe about it, sort of like throwing clothes in the washing machine and then in the dryer. Only, here, the hard effort is on the front end, whereas with laundry, it is in the folding and putting clothes away. And like the freshly laundered clothes that will get re-worn and become in need of re-laundering, this frameset will get cleaned up and built-up, and ridden at speed once more, to again find epic riding adventures in the miles ahead, hoping to turn love to rust once again.

p.s. Special thanks once again, to Jeff Provisor at Main Street Bicycles in Carpentersville, IL for putting up and helping with my never-ending Velo-Maniac needs!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Icons In The Moment

1965: "Get up and fight, suckaa!!!"
In a divine cleanse of stars and flashbulbs...

I am not actively a "fan" of boxing. However, while getting a haircut at a local barbershop today, I noticed on the wall across from me, a poster version of the iconic image of Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay at the time) standing over Sonny Liston. A little further research revealed that it was May 25th, 1965, the WBC Heavyweight Championship. The first minute, of the first round... and Liston is laid out on the canvas, knocked out, while Ali hovers above him as if to say "Yeah punk, you want some MORE of THIS?!?!"

This week's announcement that Lance Armstrong is retiring from the sport of professional bicycle racing (*AGAIN*) brought to mind an image just as iconic in my own mind's eye. It was that of Armstrong winning the 1999 Tour de France's mountain stage at Sestriere.

Like Ali, Armstrong's successful sporting career, often inseparable from his cult of personality, has also had its detractors. And I must readily admit that I have often enough in the last few years uttered less-than-flattering words preceded by the Texan's name (words such as "tool," "jackass," "media-whore," and "doper").

1999: Reaching through the gloom for the light we all reach for...
(or "Yeah, punks, I got YEARS more of THIS!")

Yet, back on that mountain in '99, he was just off his recent bout of cancer, and was stamping his authority on the Tour de France for cycling's best "heads of state" and all the world to see. For me, it was a glorious moment, a mystical moment,... an iconic moment. His *most* iconic.

He had not only apparently beaten cancer and cheated death, but was now through sheer force of will (*hopefully* unaided by pharmaceuticals) now reaffirming what was possible in his life. In all of our lives... And, like the media machine train wreck that would follow, we could not look away.

Who are these men, really? ... These flawed giants of sport that at times transcend the adverse circumstances and bonds of human limits? If we could only ignore the personal life stuff and focus on the athletic stuff ...

I'm reminded of the quote by Robert Louis Stevenson:

"To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life..."

I had to write that like 800 times as punishment in 6th grade, by the way, so may as well put it to good use! The only "end" of life ... Not in the sense of life's "end," or ceasing to exist, but an end as in life's goals and ultimate purpose. Do your best, ... be the best we can be, etc. etc.

Either way, these greats, like most great athletes, know about being in the moment at the highest level. We know it too, don't we? When we're "in the moment"? Think about it.

Whether hookin' and jabbin' or pedaling in anger, they seem to have raged with such demon-fueled fury  in clutch moments (the seeds of that raging planted out of the ring and off the bike) that I would like to think that through their example our aspirations are sanctified and offered up, and we become that much more of who we strive to be (hopefully, in clean athletic competition).

Thus, even when we might have convinced ourselves that we hate them, we love them still. Even when they let us down... as they almost always will.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Steel My Heart

It seems appropriate to write something bike-love / lust related on this Valentine's Day. For it just so happens that today, a large, suspicious, bike-box package was delivered to the house. I fortunately knew that the treasure that awaited within that box was no less than a red, 1983 Specialized Allez steel frame and fork.

What makes this bike frame particularly special is not just that it is a "Specialized" (ha ha), or that it was one of the rarest of steeds hand built by master Japanese framebuilder Yoshi Konno of San Rensho fame (Think Mr. Miyagi + Yoda with a brazing torch instead of lightsaber) for a period of a couple of years before the company went to mass-production. No, wrapped up in this frameset's pedigree is also that primal goo of human emotion that dances between the contour lines of nostalgia and straight-up pitter-patter-heart love at first sight.

In my case, the first time cupid's arrow scored a direct hit for this beauty I was in 8th grade. I remember something a local kid who was a year or two older than me and also "into bikes" in that geeky non-BMX way first telling me about these bikes. I think I had complained about how the nobly humble but sub-par Royce Union 10 speed I had been rollin' around on was somewhat of a transit bus. His response was simply "Buy Specialized..." Really? Just like that, with all that 8th grader expendable income of mine... So it was to be a mongrel Schwinn, humble Centurion, and aspiring Peugeot for a few years. I swear the Frenchman who put my Peugeot together must have been drunk or still hungover, torch in hand, the day it was liberated from his brazing jig!

Vintage tasty! It must be
looking for components
Then, one hazy afternoon about 8 years later, while an undergraduate at the University of California at Santa Cruz, I was loitering around one of the local bike shops and noticed her... an absolutely stunning metallic red steel Specialized Allez hanging from the lower rafters in the shop. Sadly, even in my stunned daze of hopelessly smitten crush, I could tell that the frame was a bit too large for me from the length of the headtube. But I also noticed her clean, elegant lines and unique (compared to the mass-produced version), chromed dropouts (the little slots that the wheel hubs/axles fits into). Sensing that I was a mediocre-at-best racer, the shop wrench was quick to admonish me, "Duude, a frame that's too big IS DEATH in a corner at high speed!!!.." Death! And so I left her there in that shop, never looking back, for fear I might turn into a pillar of salt or something ... and now that I think about it, I never did step foot in that shop again, as though to do so would only bring heartache and longing for something that I knew was not to be.

Dances with wolves, no.
Dances on pedals, yes.
Yet, her memory lingered. She haunted me from time to time when that B-movie with Kevin Costner (American Flyers) came up in conversation (ok, maybe I'd bring it up only to invoke her name!!!). She had an important role in that film, and certainly SHOULD HAVE been nominated for "best supporting actress!" She haunted me when years later, I had the privilege of owning a mass-produced version which I had inherited from a friend, but unlike the beauty hanging from that shop ceiling, was a bit too SMALL for me. And she entered my daydreams, now a couple of decades on, settled into the Midwest, when I'd think back to my adolescent years in California, and how I used to envision how my life might be after high school. It included living somewhere in the East Bay area of Northern California (Walnut Creek perhaps?) and of course, owning one of these wonderful bicycles, all decked out in full Shimano Dura-Ace or Suntour Superbe Pro componentry. Commuting to San Francisco via BART train... Epic, year-round outdoor rides. You get the idea.

Rita H. up on some cloud
With every year that passed, the memory of her red metallic paint and elegant, shiny chromed drop-outs stayed with me. From time to time, I would check ebay or Craigslist just to see what was out there, but never quite found what I was looking for. But one day approaching mid-February 2011, I did the usual curious routine search, and suddenly I saw her once again, ... in all of that Rita Hayworth-like metallic red and chrome accented glory! I set my highest bid on a whim and more or less put it out of my mind. When I checked that email account a few days later, I saw the magic words, "You won this item on eBay: Specialized Allez 58cm frame and fork" OMG! OMG! OMG! Pay now... PAY NOW!!!      

For the few days while I waited for her to arrive, I tried to do some research and find out everything I could about this particular model year. That, in itself was very entertaining, as I've come to realize that I am not alone with bike love for this memory machine.

And now she's here, and I'm going to do my best to restore her slowly, bit by bit, new paint, new decals, and part by part. I'm going to enjoy every step in the process, just like those first long-paused eyes and kisses of loves past. Those first sips of coffee and endless conversations. While it might be true that I'm a bit older and (one would hope) wiser now, her arrival's brought a new blush of youthful spring into my cycling life's hiatus (and the harsh Midwestern winter we've had this year!).

While I do not live in the Walnut Creek I imagined, or anywhere near California for that matter (only in my dreams), life is good, and the bike life's about to get even better. I hope to periodically post updates on this new relationship, err, ahem... restoration process. For now though, I am intoxicated in starry-eyed 8th grade bikelust in the throes of this scarlet beauty's spell. Domo arigato Konno-san, ... Domo arigato.